I think it started when I was president of the West Michigan Chapter of PRSA back in 2004. Among the broader goals for the organization from the national level was one to advocate for the profession of public relations, or, to take a line from the PRSA Code of Ethics, to "enhance the profession."
I took that seriously, not just because I was in local chapter leadership at the time, but because I think the issue of the perception of the PR profession is important. So I took action that year, including have a joint WMPRSA-Grand Rapids Economics Club meeting which featured a speaker on Corporate Social Responsibility. The idea was to show that PR is something more than what is typically demonized as intentional deception or minimized as mere publicity.
Since then I've tried to respond whenever possible when PR is mischaracterized. This could mean speaking up in a faculty meeting with my beloved colleagues from other majors in the GVSU School of Communications. It has also included commenting on specific media portrayals of PR such as a recent article in TIME magazine that I discussed in an earlier post on this blog. I've also traced the origins of media portrayals of PR in an article in the Journal of Communication Management. In August I will participate in a panel discussion about the media image of PR at the annual convention of the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).
So this week, when I read an article in Columbia Journalism Review, a collaboration with ProPublica, purporting to give yet another investigative insight into the profession, I had to respond with a comment. That was noticed by a few people, one of whom is an editor at PR Daily who asked me to edit the comment as an op-ed for today's edition, which I gladly did. You can read that comment here.
I was most delighted to read additional comments from other PR practitioners and professors. PR is a diverse profession, with an impressive array of talents and perspectives. But if there's anything that is in common among the majority, it is that the media, while right to point out bad apples, do a disservice to the profession and the public when they focus ONLY on that and insinuate that PR is defined by the few. It's akin to pointing out pornography and saying "that's photography."
Part of "enhancing the profession" means we all have to make sure our own work is honest, ethical and a service to society as well as the organizations we serve. The more positive examples of PR there are, the better reflection on the profession. But when so much good work is ignored in favor of sensational discussion of a few episodes of bad practice, we all must speak out not just for ourselves, but the profession as a whole. I hope to see even more PR pros engaging the media and public not just for their clients, but for the profession. And while academics don't get many points for publishing in non-academic periodicals, I am happy to see an increase in the number of professors engaging trade publications and mainstream media to offer an honest perspective on public relations.